I arrive at the school’s pool for practice at 5:30 on the dot. Mrs. Martyr is waiting there for me. The other swimmers are just getting into the pool. The ages range from 6 to 18, an odd mixture. I have my cap and goggles tucked into the strap of my royal blue swimsuit, the Dolphin logo displayed in white on my hip. I stretch out my arms and greet my coach with a lazy smile. She looks at me with her signature what-the-hell look only her expressive face can pull off perfectly. As if reading my mind, she says, “What the hell happened to you?”
I shrug and feed her the line I fed my mom. Turns out she’s hungry today; she falls for my dishonesty (not proud of myself, by the way).
“What are we doing today, Marty?” I call her by her nickname, something only people she likes get to call her.
“Well actually, Jerry and Carly are not here today, so I’m going to need you and James to help coach the little ones.”
Jerry and Carly are our other two coaches, married. Right on cue, James puts an arm on my shoulder and says, “Well good, Rosie Posie here wasn’t in school today, so she’s technically not supposed to partake in any extracurricular activities.” He wags a finger at me chidingly. I roll my eyes.
“Oh please, spare me.”
He laughs and pinches my cheeks.
We give the younger kids a simple workout to do - a couple of hundred meters to start off for the 8-9 group and a hundred for the 6-7 group. Then just a bunch of drills, we’ll make it up as we go. I turn to James and ask, “So, this is probably really weird and coming out of nowhere, but does God protect everyone from evils or just the religious and people like that?”
He looks surprised by my question, but answers anyway. “Well, I mean God loves all of his people. I think God places little hints around to protect people, and it’s the individual’s responsibility to do the right thing or the wrong thing. That goes for religious and nonreligious people. “
I watch the little swimmers for a moment. Then I ask, “Even pagans and atheists and agnostics?”
“Sure, He created them so he wouldn’t want to see harm come to them.”
“But what if they rejected him completely?”
“Free will. It’s their choice to accept the truth or not, doesn’t mean God will forget about them.”
I press my lips together. I don’t exactly know what I believe in. James and I have, since we met almost, had a long, drawn-out battle over religion, Catholicism specifically. I’ve never understood it, I think it’s contradictory. God loves all people but apparently I’m going to hell because I don’t sit in church for an hour and say Amen at the right times, and my moms are going to hell because they’re lesbians. Makes no sense to me, everyone is human are they not?
James looks at me. “What’s on the mind, Rose?”
I shake my head. “Nothing, just thinking. So hypothetical question.”
“Someone is associated with...”
James’ eyes are patient, but I can’t seem to get the word out, it sounds crazy even to me. He doesn’t push me but I sense his curiosity floating in the air around him.
“Demons,” I finish finally. James rolls his eyes. “That subject again? I told you before; demons belong in hell, along with anyone associated with them. You help demons, you turn your back on God.”
“But what if the person is not evil?”
“Doesn’t matter, if they were a good person they wouldn’t help demons.”
“But what if-”
“Look, bottom line, anyone associated with demons goes to hell,” he snaps. “Why the sudden interest in demons?”
My face gets hot. James feels so strongly about this, I don’t think it’s a good idea to tell him that my new BFF is the spawn of Satan.
So I lie. “Oh nothing, our conversation from the other day just crossed my mind and I was just curious.”
To my shock and horror, James says, “Rose I’ve been best friends with you since eighth grade. Don’t you think I know when you’re lying?”
I give him the most are-you-crazy look I can muster. “Really James? So are you saying that I’m running around with little red demons everywhere and am worried about my soul? That sounds crazy to even me.”
He looks down in embarrassment and I feel bad for making him feel stupid. My cheeks burn with shame.
“I... Never mind, I guess I was wrong. Now that I think of it, I don’t know why you would lie about that, there’s no other logical explanation than curiosity. I dunno, I’m just feeling a little off I guess.”
Nope, my brain says to him, you were spot on before. I’m a dirty liar; I lied to my best friend. I hush my brain with a reminder of the absolute necessity of the deception. Even so, it feels wrong.
James says, “But you have been acting weird lately, like last Thursday when you fell asleep in English. And I heard you had a little episode in history class too.”
I try to make my voice as light and casual as possible. “James, they’re called nightmares, everyone gets them.”
“Yes but you never fall asleep in class, and you look like you haven’t had a restful sleep in days.”
I snap, “Look James, I know you care, but if there was really something horribly wrong you know you would be the first I’d come running to.”
Using James’ complete trust in me to dissuade his curiosity forces me deeper and deeper into my own self-hatred. Even if the past few days have been a completely, nonsensical jumble of I-don’t-know-what-the-hell-is-going-on, I still feel like I should talk to James about this. I feel like he might believe me and understand, considering he believes in his religion so strongly. The only thing stopping me is his comment before; anyone associated with demons goes to hell.
James is my best friend, and I know he wouldn’t change that for the world…
But he just might change that for something that transcends our world.
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